“I got rock ‘n’ roll, to save me from the cold
And if that’s all there is, it ain’t so bad.”
– Motorhead, “Rock n Roll”
When I first heard those words in 1987, they resonated with me. I was a lonely kid with only a few friends and no real expectation that life held much for me outside of the awkwardness of that age. Rock n roll was something I could cling to and trust. It had real meaning to me and, at the time, it certainly seemed like that wasn’t so bad.
As the years have gone by and life has opened up beyond my wildest 16 year-old imagination, I have a different take on those words. Over the years, I have often referred to rock n roll as my “secular religion” and it has, in its best moments, approached being a religious experience, particularly at shows. A band as mundane of the Foo Fighters even had a moment of transcendence when, during “February Stars,” the white stage lights turned on the crowd; or the Mars Volta playing their whole set without a word to the crowd, because they didn’t need to speak any more than their music did. I still feel the humanity of Efrim Menuck answering questions, both serious and silly, at a recent Thee Silver Mount Zion show and the raw energy of singing “Rama Lama Fa Fa Fa” along with the MC5 on their “reunion” tour a few years ago. Perhaps now more than ever, I find myself at a show, whispering up a prayer of thanks to God for this music that I love.
Why then do I find it leaving me empty with its pop culture mores that pass as rebelliousness and in some cases, even revolution? Why is it that the comfort of my record collection is no longer…well, comforting?
In my basement, I have shelves that hold over 4500 vinyl records. It wasn’t that long ago (months, not years) that I was drawn down there to immerse myself in the pleasure of the sounds cut into those grooves, enjoying flipping through a shelf-full as I listened. It was for me almost a shrine of sorts…and that’s what now bothers me about going down there. That’s what bothers me about the time I spend with music. Have I forsaken things that matter for things that I know? Things that are safe? Jesus said, in St Matthew’s Gospel, “For where your treasure is, there also will your heart be.” And where is my treasure? Is it in the basement, made up of round plastic discs in cardboard sleeves, carefully stored in polyethylene bags? Is it in the selfish pursuit of more and more, despite the fact that I have more than I could ever play? Despite the fact that I am largely the only person who ever hears them?
I wonder now if I have built a monument to myself or worse still built a trophy and awarded it to myself for my own non-accomplishment. How different is my collection, my selfish life pursuit, from an expensive car bought to bolster the idea that one can be satisfied by things? I don’t think it is very different and that’s what’s really getting under my skin.
But I’m lucky, because I’m realizing this now. I’m realizing this while my kids are young enough. I’m realizing this before it’s sucked me in entirely. I’m lucky to find that those records aren’t my treasure and now Lemmy’s words are a different kind of comfort, reminding me rock n roll is not “all there is.”